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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual’

In a sense, everything is history.  For example, when I look at an object such as my computer screen, I am aware that I see it not as it is but as it was a fraction of a second ago ; this is because it takes a definite length of time for it to be neurologically processed and to be presented to conscious awareness.  When we move away from that kind of example towards more everyday awarenesses, to thinking about what to have for breakfast for example, things get even more historical ; if I decide on cornflakes, then where does my liking of them come from if not from pleasant memories of breakfasts past?

In a sense, then, while the arrow of time is always pointing forward, our sense perceptions of the world are always pointing backward.  It is as if Nature made us to feel more comfortable to look at the past rather than the future.

And in a sense, everything is spiritual.  For, even though I can persuade myself that I am looking at a material thing as I gaze at the computer screen, the moment I start to think about it, it becomes entirely a phenomenon of consciousness ; i.e., not material at all but spiritual.

These thoughts and others like them were crossing my mind as I enjoyed reading the history of the events following the Norman conquest, from the time of King William himself to King John.  I was conscious of enjoying that period of history as a purely spiritual pleasure ; for there is no way I could possibly enjoy it as a sensory one.  I might have imagined what it is like to be clad in heavy chain mail on the Sussex Downs ; I might have imagined what the weight of a swinging sword or mace might feel like ; I might have imagined the pain of taking an arrow-hit in the eye.  But there is no way that I can experience these things that are long in the past and beyond hope (or fear) of repetition.

“How wonderful life must be for the historian, I thought, living one’s subject entirely through one’s imagination!”

And imagination is but one short step back from its alluring cousin, fantasy.  “How comforting it would be,” I thought, “If the nobler Anglo-Saxons had never allowed themselves to become embroiled with those ghastly Normans and French!”

But then, history is history, as they say, and the events cannot be realistically imagined as being different from what they actually were.  All ‘what if’ scenarios are mere fantasy.  Perhaps that is why so many students of history see their subject as elaborate lists of dates, names and deeds ; nice and safe lists with little margin for error.  But surely this is not history at all ; it is  little more than chronology.

So, perhaps that is why they also like to have each item in the list tagged with the opinion of their teacher ; in the belief that this somehow adds veracity to the content of the list.  But such opinions are so often conditioned by the political opinions of the teacher, which always contaminate history with modern ideas alien to the age being studied.

Of course, history is bound to contain large amounts of historians’ opinion, but I do not think that this is what it is really about.  For, surely, no subject is worthy of study unless the student is in some way in love with the subject being studied.  And what is being studied in ‘History’?  it has to be simply people.  So the first requirement of an historian is to love people and, from that, to desire to know what they did and why they did it.  The ‘what’ is easy enough ; that is the bare menu.  But the ‘why’ is where the recipe is ; it leads to the kitchen where the tale of entire nations and civilisations is cooked up.

History is a tale with many story-lines, therefore with as many aims ; but apparently without an over-arching plot.  In 1066 nobody in England had the faintest suspicion of a Hanoverian monarch.  History has many chronologists but not an all-knowing author.

And yet there are patterns in history, which suggests something about human nature.  And the patterns do not lead to mere repetition of events, which suggests that human nature is changing.  For example, in general, the farther back we go, the more violent are the methods of government ; and this suggests that we are moving in a direction where force as a method is giving way to persuasion.  And violence, of course, is the outcome of ways of seeing the world and of ways of thinking.
Therefore, it seems to me that history is the tale of the evolution of human consciousness.  It is a spiritual tale.

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The spirit of adventure

Ancient wisdom impresses our minds with a freshness that is truly staggering.  What we name the material world, for example, cannot be said (with any confidence ) to exist anywhere except in a human consciousness.  We can only know the world because we are conscious of it.  We cannot go outside of our consciousness to verify that there is world ‘out there’.  For to go outside of consciousness is to be unconscious – and aware of nothing.

Fireside adventures

When we are truly unconscious, the material world simply dissolves ; so does time ; and so does space.

The great twentieth-century physicist, Max Planck, even went so far as to say, “Consciousness is everything ; matter is derived from consciousness.”

The building blocks of ‘recognizable’ matter are atoms.  But, as Bertrand Russell reminded us, these are known only by sets of difficult mathematical equations whose interpretation is obscure.   For nobody has ever directly seen an atom, and nobody ever will.  The models we learn at school and elsewhere are just that,- models.

But consciousness, where we do our seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling and maths, is obviously not a material thing.  Perhaps Ernest Rutherford made it plainest, “Whether we like it or not, we live in a spiritual world.”  We seem to have derived our spirit of adventure from that world.

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Before Descartes, roses were red and violets were blue.  Since Descartes, that has changed.  Since Descartes, body and mind have been split asunder ; the world and the person have become two distinct (and some say incompatible) things ; matter and spirit have been divorced.  This was not all Descartes’ fault ; it was not his intention ; but it resulted from people adopting his philosophy.

So why are roses no longer red?  Because the rose of itself has been split from our perception of the rose.  The rose is one thing ; our perception of it is another.  The rose is a material thing, while our perception of it is a psychic, or spiritual, thing.  The rose exists in the world, while our perception of it is a cognitive model of that existence.  This view of things is quite logical but it has some puzzling consequences.

The rose is now no longer red, because redness is a psychical quality ; redness  exists in our consciousness but not in the material world.  It is a quality that exists in our consciousness, but not in our material brains.  You may examine a brain as closely as you like, but you will find no redness in there ; in fact, you will find no roses in there either.

After Descartes, the relation between our selves and the world has become bewildering.  So bewildering that many people are now afraid of psychology ; afraid of psychical phenomena ; in fact, afraid of themselves.

And yet, they are fascinated by it all.  They feel drawn to it willy-nilly.

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I remember being indoctrinated at school.  “There’s knowledge in books,” they said.  “Lies,” I thought, “There’s only paper and ink.”  And all that paper and ink in the book is meaningless ; knowledge exists only in minds.

I tested my hypothesis by consulting a book written in Greek ; it conveyed nothing intelligible to me at all.  I then consulted a book written in English ; it conveyed a wonderful story to me.  Is it something about Greek ink that causes this strange difference?  or Greek paper?  At any rate, I concluded that the experiment supported my hypothesis : there is no knowledge in books.

But was I right in my thinking?  Wouldn’t it be truer to say that there is knowledge in books for those with eyes to see and a mind to understand?  If this is so, then there has to be more to a book than mere paper and ink.  What is that ‘something more’?  And where does it come from?  It cannot be a material thing, for nothing material is added to  the paper and ink.

Dare one say that, if knowledge (or wisdom) is not a material thing, then it must be spiritual.  Knowledge is not a quantity but a quality.  And if it comes from somewhere, then surely it has to come from either the writer or from the reader ; or from both.  Or does it come from language itself?  Does the writer merely re-arrange the knowledge inherent in the words? So the words are the material symbols which represent (and are connected to) the spiritual knowledge.  And is the reader’s mind stimulated by the sight of the material symbols, so as to awaken his own spiritual knowledge to the new arrangement of words?

I have no doubt that some of the very finest of minds have unravelled this mystery.  I shall be content to wonder at the hidden power of words.

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